Marissa Ortiz: The Five-Minute Fulbright Musical

Maybe you’ve wondered what life is like as a Fulbright ETA but your attention span demands song and pictures and anecdotes of cumulatively no more than five minutes.

Well today is your lucky day.

For our Fulbright midyear conference, we were asked to prepare a five-minute photo slideshow from our first five months as English Teaching Assistants.  The result seemed like an entertaining and fairly accurate summary of my life thus far here, so I’ve finally pulled together a recording to share with all of you.


This article is taken from the blog of Marissa Ortiz, 2012-2013 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic. 


Adam Spanier: Hey, Look – I’m a Teacher

Only a few weeks into my first-ever teaching job, I learned a valuable (and obvious) lesson: students have an incredible amount of power when it comes to dictating your mood.

I was a little tired the other day and not very excited about my full days of lessons. Luckily, my students were all in a miraculously good mood which completely turned my day around. They made me have a much better day (which also made me realize that the opposite can also happen… Let’s hope that it doesn’t).

For something that is so much a part of my life here,  I’ve posted very few pictures of my school/classroom/students… So, I’ve decided to show you some pictures along with a very brief explanation of pretty surface-level differences between my experiences here in the CR and my experiences from high school in rural Minnesota.

I’m not very photogenic…

1. The Czech Secondary Education structure is different…

I’m teaching at what would most closely resemble an American high school. My youngest students are about 14 years old, and my oldest are about 19 (Czech students  have one more year of Secondary Education than those in the states… However, they typically finish their bachelor degree in about three years).

The biggest difference between the structure of these two school systems? Czech students can choose two main tracks of education, gymnasium (general education similar to the American ‘high school’–this is the type of school that I’m currently at), and then what one would maybe call a technical school.

Now here’s where it might get a little confusing… At the age of 11, Czech students can choose if they want to continue their traditional primary school education, or they can apply to be enrolled into an 8-year gymnasium program. These students are almost always the students most likely to plan on continuing their higher education with the pursuit of a bachelor degree, and therefore, these students are typically the most academically inclined/talented. Enrollment into the 8-year program is limited and therefore pretty competitive.

Students not admitted into the 8-year gymnasium program must continue their basic primary education until the age of 15. Once again, these students must make another decision about the future of their education. Students have two basic options: attend a 4-year gymnasium program or a technical school.
  • Technical schools are intended to prepare students for technical occupations such as electricians, plumbers, mechanics, automotive technicians, etc… Often, students might even move to another town (dormitory living) to attend a school that has their chosen speciality.
  • As I previously stated, Gymnasium schools are intended to prepare students for college/university. There is a general curriculum of mathematics, sciences, language grammar and literature, civics, etc… Students are also required to learn two other languages.
In conclusion, Czech students must make pretty important life decisions at the age of 11 or 15 years old… “Do I want to go to a college, or do I want to prepare myself for a more ‘blue-coller’ career?”

And what does this say about my experience as a teacher? Well, having heard horror stories from friends teaching in public schools in the USA, I was nervous about the lack of motivation and good behavior among some of my students here. However, because I teach in a gymnasium, most of my students are pretty academically inclined–most of them (not all) take school pretty seriously and bad behavior is very rarely an issue of concern. I believe that this makes my job A LOT easier than the job of a typical American high school teacher in a public school.     

Students trying to act natural… While reading ’50 Shades of Grey’…
They were embarrassed.


2. The building is OLD

And so is some of the technology. Not all classrooms have projectors or computers (admittedly, this may also be the case in many American classrooms…). Sometimes this can be difficult as I tend to use a lot of powerpoint presentations, but I can often trade classrooms with another class so that I have access to the necessary technology. No big deal. 

My School: the old building (red roof), the new building (big one in the center),
and the gym (white building in the back)

Main Entrance


3. Students must wear ‘slippers’ while in school

Czech floors are immaculately clean–they love their clean floors. When students arrive at school, the first thing that they must do is go to their lockers, take off their shoes, and change into slippers. The fact that this doesn’t happen in American school has really, really surprised some of my students: “You mean, you wear dirty shoes in school?!?!?” 

School Hallway / Lockers


4. I don’t see other teachers that often

Teachers typically share an office with 1-2 other teachers. I share my office with two other English teachers, Hana (my mentor), and Svetlana.

My office

I do all of my preparation in this classroom and when the bell rings, I walk to a classroom and teach; after class, I immediately walk back to my office. I rarely see any of the other teachers. While we do have a “teacher’s room”, it is only used for large meetings. Also, there is not really a community space for teachers to gather and eat, instead…

Fellow English teacher: Svetlana

5. There is a community ‘cantine’

My school  does not have it’s own cafeteria. Instead, students, teachers, and people from the community, go to the Uničov ‘cantine’ for lunch Monday-Friday. It’s about a 4 minute walk from my school. This sounds like a somewhat insignificant difference, but I’m a little said that my students can’t relate to me about the typical high school ‘cafeteria’ scene.. We all know that the cafeteria is where most of the high school gossip occurs.. Not to mention all of those entertaining food fights (you know, the ones that happen all the time in the movies). 

6. Students have their own ‘room’

While American high school teachers will have their own classroom and students will come to them for class, the opposite is true here in the CR. Like I said before, teachers have shared offices, and when the bell rings, they will go to the classroom of their next class. So, my 8th year class has their own room. My 6th year class also has their own room. Between classes, students will often gather in their rooms and chat/relax. I haven’t quite figured out what sort of cultural implications this may have, but I guess that it does restrict some socializing between various classes in a small way. 

Students hanging out between classes


7. Students stand when I enter the room

Sooo, when I leave my office (usually when the bell rings, never before) and enter the classroom, all students will stand up and face the front of the room as if they were standing ‘at attention’. It’s weird and takes some getting used to. I will then say, “Thank you. You may sit down now,” and then they sit.

Initially, it made me feel quite awkward to have students show respect in this fashion. I felt like a dictator or something… However, I would be lying if I didn’t say that it makes me feel cool and that I now enjoy it (also, a great way to officially ‘start’ class). 

Students working

8. I’m the only English teacher who uses Powerpoint presentations

The most advanced form of technology used by the other English teachers: a radio. I don’t know if this is a typical Czech thing, or if its just because the other English teachers are not very technologically inclined… Because of this, I have fully embraced using powerpoints and use them quite often. In the past, when students had topics like New Zealand, or traveling, or housing vocabulary, a teacher would just pass around postcards, or pictures of magazines. I found this to be quite depressing and have instead tried to incorporate pictures, music, and video into my powerpoint presentations. I think that it keeps many of my students more engaged in what I have to say. 

Teaching about writing a résumé

 9. The education is much more ‘knowledge’-based  

I would assume that average Czech student would outsmart the average American student when it comes to standardized tests about math, sciences, and (definitely) geography. In contrast, my memories of high school included many more group projects and essays than I believe my students here have to do.

For this reason, I’ve tried to cater my lessons to as many types of learners as possible, rather than just projecting facts, vocabulary, and grammar rules. This has led many of my students to tell me that I have a very “American style” of teaching, whatever that means… 

Group discussion time

‘Create your own restaurant’


10. Students like to cheat

We were warned about this at our first Fulbright training event. Most of my students will openly admit to having cheated before (and doing so quite often). There’s also much more of a group mentality among many of my students. When somebody doesn’t know an answer, a fellow student will (quite visibly) whisper the correct answer to them. “It’s not really cheating,” one of my students said, “I think that we just like to help each other.” Nice try. 

Trying to look smart…

11. School sports don’t exist here in the way that they do in the USA 

Perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of my high school experience is being involved in sports. I played baseball when I was young, and then Football, Track and Field, and (for a short time) Wrestling. Even if you didn’t play sports in high school, you can imagine how much their existence had an impact on your high school experience: school spirit, having a mascot, going to Friday night football games, becoming best friends with teammates, meeting new people, etc…

Now imagine your high school experience WITHOUT all of that.

Yes, my students play many sports and are pretty active, but their sports and activities are not connected with the school. Instead, there will be a town Floorball club, or a town soccer team, etc… It’s just not the same.

Playing soccer in the school gym

Sooo, in conclusion, many things about teaching here are the same. From a teacher’s perspective, I still see my students having small dramatic episodes with other students. I sometimes see young love/relationships flourish (or go down in flames). It’s definitely an interesting experience and I am incredibly thankful that I was given this opportunity.

Teaching Food Adjectives

This article is taken from the blog of Adam Spanier, 2012-2013 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic.


Daniel Sosna: Studium antropologie na Florida State University

Jedna z nejzajímavějších životních zkušeností se díky Fulbrightově komisi udála v roce 2002 ještě před mým příjezdem na Floridu. Zúčastnil jsem se přípravného třítýdenního kurzu pro zahraniční studenty na Univerzitě v Buffalu. I po deseti letech obtížně hledám slova, která by výstižně popsala sice krátkou, ale intenzivní zkušenost, kdy se mladý člověk spolu s třiceti dalšími cizinci z více jak dvaceti zemí ocitne v jedné budově a společně navštěvuje přednášky, semináře, vaří jídlo a po nocích debatuje o vědě a životě v Jižní Koreji, na Madagaskaru nebo v Argentině.

Samo doktorské studium se od toho českého výrazně liší. Představa, že doktorandy již není nutné příliš vzdělávat a měli by se věnovat primárně dizertační práci, v USA nefunguje. Doktorandi musí projít sérií intenzivních kurzů, které vyžadují maximální nasazení, a po dvou až třech letech teprve obhajují projekt výzkumu, který hodlají realizovat. Odměnou za práci je respekt ostatních. Americké akademické prostředí má jednu obrovskou výhodu – ideologii pozitivní motivace.

Místo českého důrazu na trest za špatné výsledky v USA hraje prim víra ve zlepšení a pozitivní hodnocení kvality. Pochvala a uznání pak lidem dávají křídla a ti jsou ochotni se vrhnout do další práce s ještě větším nasazením.

Užitečným nástrojem vzdělávání je i potlačení hierarchie a kolegialita. Lidé z jedné katedry a univerzity kopou za stejný tým, přestože i mezi nimi existují různé tenze a názorové rozdíly. Kolegiální podpora a sdílení jsou velmi silné. Lidé daleko ochotněji sdílejí nápady, data i metodické postupy. Tuší totiž, že z takového jednání budou v delší perspektivě profitovat všichni zúčastnění.

Odlišné jsou i infrastrukturní podmínky studia a bádání na amerických univerzitách. Celý systém je postaven tak, aby umožnil lidem rozvíjet svůj potenciál. Otázkou není, co lze či nelze, ale jak cíle dosáhnout. Noční pobyt v laboratoři, vlastní uzamykatelná komůrka v knihovně nebo volný tisk dokumentů jsou běžné. Samozřejmě existence školného řadu věcí univerzitě usnadňuje. Přesto nejde pouze o dostatek nebo nedostatek prostředků. Základní rozdíl je v odlišném myšlení. Pedagogové, badatelé a studenti neslouží univerzitě, ale univerzita slouží jim. Celý systém je postaven tak, aby minimalizoval překážky při realizaci vizí.

Příspěvek je převzat z článku Daniela Sosny a Mileny Králíčkové "Studium v USA očima dvou stipendistů Fulbrightova programu", Unoviny Západočeské univerzity, ročník 2, číslo 4. Daniel Sosna v rámci Fulbrightova programu studoval v letech 2002-2007 doktorský program v antropologii na Florida State University.

Milena Králíčková: Studium medicíny na Harvardu

Akademický rok 1998/1999 se mi díky stipendiu Fulbrightovy komise podařilo strávit jakožto doktorandce na Oddělení reprodukční endokrinologie Massachusettské všeobecné nemocnice při Harvard University v Bostonu.

Když se zamýšlím nad tím, co mi pobyt přinesl, dá se to rozdělit do několika kategorií – minimálně na úroveň profesní a osobní.

Stipendium mi dalo možnost pracovat rok v laboratoři se světovou úrovní výzkumu hormonální regulace plodnosti. Kromě toho, co jsem se naučila po odborné stránce, jsem se ale naučila i řadu věcí, které mne posunuly lidsky a změnily můj pohled na život jako takový. První z dovedností, kterou jsem před odletem neznala a kterou jsem se naučila v Bostonu, byla kultura týmové spolupráce. V našem bostonském uskupení Američanů, Evropanů, Jihoameričanů a Asiatů jsme se vzájemně respektovali, každý uměl něco a vedoucí oddělení profesor Crowley uměl každému dát přiměřený úkol. Díky každotýdenním schůzkám plnění úkolů kontroloval, někoho povzbuzoval, někoho usměrnil, ale byla to profesionální souhra. Od návratu domů jsem takovou týmovou souhru profesionálů nezažila – je vidět, že minimálně naše generace k tomu nebyla vedena.

V současné době vedu skupinky mladých vědců, doktorandů, studentů a musím se přiznat, že týmovou souhru se teprve učím „dirigovat“. Někdy to dře, ale musíme se naučit pracovat jako tým, jinak to totiž dnes v seriózním biomedicínském výzkumu nejde.

Druhou věcí, kterou mne pobyt naučil, je snaha o rovnováhu mezi sebevědomím a pokorou. Do USA jsem přijela jako naivní děvče z malého města, kterému se podařilo vystudovat medicínu na Karlově univerzitě a začít doktorandské studium. Neustále jsem však svojí skromností provokovala – neuměla jsem „prodat“ to, co jsem věděla, a budila jsem soucit. Dodnes nevzývám nekonečné sebevědomí bez pokory ani naopak. Od pobytu v USA hledám rovnováhu mezi sebeuvědoměním spojeným se sebevědomím a pokorou. Američané používají slovo „sebeláska“, a to ve smyslu „sebe‑přijetí“ – jsem, jaká jsem, a mám své chyby, ale dokážu si odpustit. Když totiž dokážete odpustit sami sobě, spíše pak dokážete odpustit i těm okolo.

Člověk se ve světě, a zvláště v kulturně odlišném světě, může naučit a dozvědět ledacos. Možná namítnete, že ty odborné věci dnes v době moderních technologií sdílíme a nemusíme za nimi létat za oceán. S tím souhlasím. Ty věci, které se tam však díky konfrontaci s jinou kulturou dozvíme sami o sobě, ty se díky moderním technologiím nedozvíme – ty musíme prožít.

Příspěvek je převzat z článku Mileny Králíčkové a Daniela Sosny "Studium v USA očima dvou stipendistů Fulbrightova programu", Unoviny Západočeské univerzity, ročník 2, číslo 4. Milena Králíčková působila v roce 1998-99 jako Fulbright Visiting Student na Harvardově univerzitě.

Adam Spanier: Reflections on My Experiences as an English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic

The most unique and enjoyable aspect of the Fulbright experience has been the complete cultural immersion. I’m the only native-English speaker living in this tiny Czech town, and for most people, I’m also the only American that they’ve ever met. Unlike when I studied film in Prague (where there were always fellow study-abroad-students or tourists), I am completely and entirely surrounded by Czech natives.

This unique situation often presents me with two very different options: stay at home looking at my computer all day, or go out and experience as many Czech foods, customs, holidays, and other events as I possibly can. This has resulted in me developing what I’ve been calling a “yes-driven” mentality; I try to accept every invitation that comes my way. Thankfully, this has led me to attend many great events, such as a typical Czech dance ball, a Guláš festival, a wine tasting event, traditional Christmas celebrations, cross-country ski trips, and occasional nights at the pub.

The complete cultural immersion also has its challenges. Although I’ve spent a lot of time trying to teach myself more Czech, the language barrier remains an obvious challenge and can make grocery shopping, transportation, and other simple things quite difficult.

A very unexpected challenge in my small rural town has been encountering different opinions regarding cultural and ethnic diversity—opinions that are often very different than my own. There is something very valuable in having [these] conversations… I love being able to appreciate our core similarities as human beings. In this way, every day seems to be a life lesson of sorts. I really appreciate the openness of people here and their willingness to share their stories with me.

I think that my experiences at Augsburg have given me both the professional and personal skills to best deal with these complicated conversations. It’s been great to see others share their cultures and opinions with me, while they also appreciate my opinions on the matter. 

Developing confidence as a world citizen 

In a very general sense, living alone abroad has led to an improved sense of self-confidence. Simply figuring out travel plans, using public transportation, practicing/using the language, and other difficulties that one has when living in a different country—all of these things have made me more confident in my ability to travel the world.

Of course, I have often made many mistakes as well, so these experiences are also very humbling. These confidence-inducing yet humbling experiences have made me more attune to the importance of developing cross-cultural understandings in the world. I am very, very thankful to be having such a valuable experience.

Advice to future Fulbrights: Share your story

As an English major, I was surprised at how valuable that particular education was to the development of my Fulbright application. I often found myself thinking about my application from the perspective of a script analysis: what is my “beginning, middle, and end”; how can I most effectively (and dramatically) present myself to the Fulbright committee; what makes me unique?

Therefore, I would suggest that you view your application as a tool to present your “story.” What makes you the way you are? How did you develop your interests? Why are you unique? Communicate these ideas in the most effective and interesting way you possibly can make other people want to read your “story.”

Life after Fulbright

Before I begin my job search, I’m planning one final adventure upon my arrival back home. Over the last couple summers, I’ve canoed about 450 miles down the Mississippi River with my best friend. This upcoming summer, we will finish our trip down the river all the way to New Orleans. From New Orleans, we hope to bike south through Central and South America for a few months.

Career-wise, I hope to eventually get a job with a film or television production company. Luckily, while here in the Czech Republic, I’ve made many great friends from all corners of the United States. Many of them have already offered to introduce me to potential career connections and resources. While here, I also met a former film student who is now producing documentaries and short films for Czech television.

This article is taken from the website of the Augsburg College. Adam Spanier is the 2011-2012 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic.


Trisha Remetir: California Days (or the week of cutie pies!)

February went quickly, didn’t it? After the weekend of birthdays I had a flurry of other projects to plan for, like the weeklong English speaking event California Days as well as my spring break trip. That as well as figuring out my plans for the next year (a source of unending worry, as it seems).

But the spring break pictures will have to wait, because I have to backtrack to California Days first. Since August, the teachers and I have been talking about–and then later planning–an English language event at the school. These are school-wide events that involve student participation in various projects, presentations, and even music. Previous years have been Irish Days, Australia Days, and though 2013 was already planned to be New Zealand Days, they changed the theme to my state, California, since I’m… from… there. It felt really weird for a single American state to be the theme for the whole event, but I consoled myself with the fact that California is actually bigger than a lot of European countries. Also, we got to focus on a number of really great things I miss about home, like California literature and Bay Area culture.

The beginning of the week started with the ol’ regular classes, but on Tuesday my CA bud as well as guest of honor, Grace Osborne arrived to Nachod, where she stayed with me in my flat. There we hurriedly put together our presentation on California. Wednesday we got up bright and early for the beginning of the students’ presentations.

Piled up on the stage

Okay, so at this point I feel like I should explain the cheesefest that makes up half of the title of this blogpost. I’ve lately been teaching the younger classes, making my way from the oktavas down to the quintas and quartas. Every month, the students become a little more shy, a little more eager and attentive, but mostly just plain cute. I’m not gonna lie: the most memorable classes I’ve ever taught are the ones during which the first lesson I first walked into a room and witnessed terror in their eyes. Not due to my disciplinary skills (admittedly, I have none), but due to the fact that I am American. And also a few years older than them. And (perceptibly) taller than (some of) them.

So little!

So while a lot of their presentations carried similar themes (Hollywood, the Walk of Fame, famous Californian movie stars), it didn’t matter because it was so endearing just to hear them speak.

A couple of primas talking about Hollywood

And why they’re cute isn’t because the students are unintelligent – Grace and I got to listen to an impromptu concert by some very gifted prima students–it’s just that their intelligence is packed into such a small physical space (aka, their height and miniature clothes) that there were some times Grace had to tell me to stop saying how cute they were.

But still, they are and I can’t help it.

I still attended some regular classes on Wednesday, but the beauty of being a teaching assistant is that I just continued the Californian spirit by playing trivia games with the quintas. Afterwards I took some of their pictures. I have to say, this class is not only hardworking but makes me laugh.

FCE students yeah!
Really good students!
They wanted me to take a couple of pictures with them.

California Days ended with two seminars. Grace and I had a postcard making workshop, where people sent postcards from places in California. (I got a lot of Golden Gate Bridge pictures out of it.) The last couple hours of the day were then spent in a literature seminar, where Grace and I got to hear some Ginsberg-esque masterpieces from the older students.

Writing on the piano.
My mentor Zdena talking to a student.

By the end of the week I was completely spent, but again full of tenderness for all the people at my school. And also for Grace, who was a real trooper and woke up at 6:30 in the morning with me everyday. I should also make a shoutout to Andrea and Jakub from the Fulbright Commission, who trekked all the way over to my gymnazium to see the students as well as give study abroad presentations to the septimas and oktavas.

Overall, it was a lovely experience and probably will be one of the best memories I have of my Fulbright teaching experience thus far!

This article is taken from the blog of Trisha Remetir, 2011-2012 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic.